Lately I have found myself mulling over the way in which the condition of our heart influences our theology, and how our weakness may influence which particular Christian doctrines we espouse. In other words, how much of our theology, as Christians, is based on truth, or at the very least the search for, desire for, and conviction of truth? And how many of our doctrinal positions are merely the result of happenstance, circumstances, and above all, or perhaps worst of all, convenience? In other words, it just suits us to believe that.
Several years ago I heard a man of God say something perfectly ordinary ‘God is after the heart’; and it has stayed with me since, and become one of the barometers for judging appropriateness of thought, conduct and belief; as well as attitude to doctrine. The issue here is, ‘do I believe what i believe only because it suits my purpose, because it provides a convenient answer for where i am at, because my friends believe it and/or because it does not shake up my world?’
Some will say, does it matter, so long as it is the right thing? Yes it does, it matters much. Because of God’s insistence on the condition of our hearts, i believe that our reason for believing a thing matters just as much as what it is that we believe. It seems that God cares about making us right within not only making us believe the right things, which means that above and beyond doctrine, we must have right hearts, right motivation, right attitude.
For instance, some of those who tout and preach and hype prosperity do it because they themselves have a love for money; yet on the other hand, some others who pillory prosperity preaching do it because they have an inordinate attachment to money, see it as vile and cannot think God and money, their secret vice in the same breath. The latter think they hold the moral high ground yet neither is right before God; for in contemplating their hearts and attitude to money they have both failed.
Why do we believe what we believe? We are very skilled at hiding from our own selves. It takes God to shine His spotlight on the deepest recesses of our being and show which weakness in us makes us more predisposed to accepting a particular Christian doctrine rather than another. Is that conviction of truth or a convenient way of not dealing with issues we would have had to deal with had we swung to the other side? This is a moot point because sometimes what other people believe challenges us and raises unanswered questions for us.
The solution is not to draw a curtain on the doctrine, it is to put a demand on ourselves to seek truth and deal with the consequences of it. There is always someone respectable who believes something that will feed our carnality. There is always something more convenient than the truth for us to believe, something that fits into our current frame of mind and does not require us to change. We will always find good company even in heresy and unbelief.
Stripping ourselves of the desire to protect ourselves and feel good about ourselves is essential if we are to seek truth with purity of heart. Ones greater than you and I have fallen prey to the tendency to formulate doctrine on the basis of inadequate personal experience despite the overwhelming witness of Scripture in the other direction. The other day I heard a highly respected non-charismatic evangelical bible teacher with an extreme theology of suffering, with no room for any form of victory in this present life, one with a large following, speak of a prolonged bout of depression and mid-life crisis he experienced personally, while all the time preaching and teaching on suffering.
The question is how much of his well known theology of suffering was born of this anti-biblical personal experience, how much of it triggered this experience and to what extent were they self pollinating? And did the people who follow him know how his teaching could have been coloured by this fact? True, circumstances, unforeseen situations can break into our world and be used by God to open our eyes to a truth previously neglected, that is not in doubt, we have all experienced it and will yet. On the other hand, such could also cause us to discount God’s truth to justify our condition.
Those with powers of discourse, exposition and argument in particular must pay heed to the source of their doctrine; it cannot be born of tortuous ways to explain away the contradiction of life, and incompatibility of experience with biblical truth. It must be based on biblical truth despite experiential dissonance. God’s word is not meant to be a reflection of human experience, rather human experience is meant to become a reflection of God’s word. It is a changer and determinant of human experience. Once that is settled in our hearts, we can freely embrace truth, we cease to twist it to explain away our failings; we seize it to transform our lives.